Southwest Airlines grounded thousands of flights again Tuesday A massive winter storm It disrupted Christmas travel plans across the US, and the federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other carriers.
A day after most US airlines had recovered from the storm, Southwest grounded another 2,600 flights along the East Coast in the afternoon. Those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 canceled flights across the country on Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
And it seemed that the chaos would continue. The airline scrapped 2,500 flights on Wednesday and more than 2,300 on Thursday as it tried to restore its irregular schedule.
In a video Southwest released late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest will operate a reduced schedule for several days but hopes to “be back on track before next week.”
Jordan’s winter storm has severely disrupted the airline’s “extremely complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from disruptions “work 99% of the time, but we have to double down on the systems we’re improving to avoid a repeat this week.”
“We have some real work to do to fix this,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know we’re committed to it.”
Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transportation Workers Union, which represents Southwest flight attendants, said she and other labor leaders have repeatedly told management that the flight’s scheduling technology is inadequate.
“It’s something we saw coming,” he said. “It was a very catastrophic event.”
The airline is now drawing unwanted attention from Washington.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency would investigate the reasons for Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.
“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this is a direct liability of the airline from uncontrolled weather,” Buttigieg told NBC Nightly News. He said Southwest should at least issue refunds for canceled flights and cover hotel and meal costs for stranded passengers.
In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also pledged to investigate. Two Senate Democrats called for Southwest to pay “significant” compensation to stranded passengers, saying the airline has cash as it plans to pay a $428 million dividend next month.
Although Southwest had the largest number of canceled flights Tuesday at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas, the size and intensity of the storm wreaked havoc on many airlines.
Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines both canceled about 10% of their flights, with much smaller cancellation percentages for American, Delta, United and JetBlue.
Daniel Janin vowed never to fly Southwest again after four days, several flights were canceled and she, her husband and their two children slept in the airport before flying home to Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They stopped at airports in Denver and Phoenix and arrived in Chicago only after paying $1,400 for four one-way tickets on American Airlines off Southwest.
“Oh my god, we’re getting on a plane! I was honestly shocked because I thought we were always stuck in airports,” he said.
Zanin plans to ask Southwest to reimburse them for a portion of their original tickets and new American tickets, as well as rental cars, parking, Uber rides and meals — a total of about $2,000.
“I don’t have good faith that they will do anything,” he said.